Blake praises England resolve
Monday, 09 July, 2012
U19s Head Coach analyses performance against France, as Young Lions top their group.
By Nicholas Veevers in Tallinn
England U19s Head Coach Noel Blake led his team to victory against France in their final Group B game against France on Monday night and praised his players for executing his tactical plan to perfection in the first half.
Goals from John Lundstram and Harry Kane before the break proved enough to beat a physically powerful France outfit and nip ahead of them into top spot in Group B.
The Young Lions had to withstand plenty of attacking from Les Bluets after the break, but goalkeeper Sam Johnstone was rarely troubled with France unable to crack the England defence through the middle and Blake was pleased with his team's discipline and incisiveness in the first half.
"It was a very tough game, France had a lot of the ball up until our back-line to a certain extent but I also thought we played some really good football too, especially in the first half," he said.
"We had a game plan on what to do without the ball and the players executed that to the letter. They (France) like to play that big, diagonal ball and they do it very well so that caused us the most trouble. But the objective is to keep the ball out of your net and we've only conceded one goal, which I felt we really should have dealt with from our point of view.
"That said, I can't fault the lads for effort, work ethic and discipline, which was terrific and the tackling was very good, very clean.
"Without the ball, I thought we did really well. With the ball, I was quite pleased at times and we created some good chances on the counter attack.
"We all know in international football, you're not always going to dominate possession. They did it today and we've done it in the past this season. But we scored two very good goals."
Blake opted to make changes to his line-up for the third successive game in order to prevent the French attacks through the centre and he now has a squad which has all equally covered the three games here so far between them.
"With the stage of the season that we're at, the lads are still in their pre-season so this is still preparation time for them back at their clubs," he explained.
"When you're asking players to play four, five or six games in a short space of time, it's hard and I believe we have a very good squad so I have utilised that.
"At this stage, there is only one lad who hasn't started a game and one lad who hasn't been on the park, and that's the second goalkeeper. I'm pleased with that, because you have to maximise the squad.
"I genuinely believe in all of the players, that they can come in and be effective in what they do, so that's what we did with the team today."
England will now take on Greece in the semi-final on Thursday, with France's second place finish in the group ensuring they face Spain in the other game and Blake has already warned his squad that they will endure another tricky test in Tallinn against the Greeks.
"I've said many times before, when you qualify for the European Finals at this level, you get some very good teams here," he added.
"Greece did very well in last year's Finals in Romania and I think they have five or six boys from that squad here this time, so they are a strong side. They are a decent team technically as well, so there's no easy games.
"We know we are in for a tough game, probably harder than this match today. We can't turn up and think that because it's Greece and not Spain or France, it will be easier."
With ten members of this squad having already won the European Championship at U17 level two years ago, Blake knows there is experience at the business end of a tournament within his ranks but is urging all of the players to treat this as a completely new challenge now.
"What happened at U17 level is in the past now, but the lads have been in this situation before so they've had that experience of what semi-finals are about," he added.
"So it's nothing new for them. I said to the players before the game, this was like a quarter final. To get to the semi-final, you have to win the game, for want of a professional word.
"It's the same again on Thursday now."